I wonder how you sign off when writing a letter or a more informal email or, perhaps even, a quickly rushed text? What is your last word or words? This form of signature says something about the author, their relationship, their ambition, their concerns. Some while ago, I remember having this sort of discussion with some friends. It made me think about how I represented myself in the form of valedictory words. ‘In haste’ would display a sort of self-important – “too busy to spend any more time on this!” ‘Go well’ suggests an avuncular expression of good tidings. ‘Best’ might be misconstrued as a typographical error – best… what? I have experimented with several endings. Not wanting to sound too pious or vacuous, I have tried, ‘Stay blessed’ and ‘God speed’ but my favourite remains, ‘In communion’ which I hope speaks authentically of my desire for fellowship and unity in Christ.
St Paul had a very distinctive method of finishing his missives to the Christian communities in the Mediterranean region. Paul nearly always offered the grace of Christ as a prayer to end his correspondence. For example, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” Just think how fresh the trinitarian nature of theology is behind this closing sentence. Paul’s letters fill the New Testament like a testimony to the life and growth of the Christian Church. Paul was a great correspondent, writing from liberty and in captivity. Unfortunately, we only have his side of events but it is possible to figure out – with the use of some forensic work – what the co-correspondents were communicating. Perhaps the most intriguing form of communication was to the community at Corinth.
Paul travelled to Corinth (modern day Greece, 45 miles west of Athens), on various missionary journeys. His two Letters to the Corinthians emphasise his personal knowledge — he knew the place and its people. Corinth, in Paul’s day, was recently re-built by Julius Caesar and reflected the infrastructure of a civilised trading port and metropolis under Roman control. Paul’s relationship with this formative Christian community is intense and subject to many quarrels and theological disputes (see Hans Frör’s depiction of life in Corinth, You Wretched Corinthians, SCM Press, 1994). In this passage we see Paul signing off with a blessing of grace and love. It seems that despite the differences, the wrongful behaviours, the divergent doctrines and misplaced practices, Paul leaves his fellow Christians, the Body of Christ in that part of the Mediterranean world, with a blessing. This signature of God’s love is the Christian way of repairing differences which should be upheld today, it is a sign of truth and peace.
‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.’